Between 1967 and 1970 J.G. Ballard placed five ‘advertiser’s announcements’ in Ambit, New Worlds and various continental alternative magazines. Although he was the editor at Ambit and heavily involved in New Worlds he paid the going rates out of his own pocket. Ballard stated that he wanted to eventually place them in Vogue, Paris-Match and Life magazines and even applied for an Arts Council grant to provide the necessary funding, but the idea was summarily rejected by the council. Ballard believed that the refusal was occasioned by their sniffy attitude towards advertising as an art-form: still the hesitancy to pony up public funds is understandable on several counts. Would those august publications have published the adverts considering their bizarre and controversial nature? Is advertising a suitable area for an Arts Council grant? And most pertinently of all, what exactly is Ballard selling?
The adverts feature a black and white image of a woman; the first and final photographs are of his partner Claire Churchill, later Walsh, the second is a still from Steven Dworkin’s film Alone about a woman masturbating, the third is a photograph of a woman in bondage gear that his friend the British Pop Artist Eduardo Paolozzi took and the fourth is by Les Krims; with accompanying text taken and on occasion somewhat re-worked from various chapters of The Atrocity Exhibition. As always with Ballard the motivation and effect is ambiguous. The use of the Situationist International technique of détournement would appear to place them as satires, but Ballard always had a tendency to embrace what was commonly held in contempt by the establishment. Regardless of their overt meaning we can be sure that their latent manifestation is of a deeply subversive nature.
“Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom?”Raoul Vaneigem,The Revolution of Everyday Life 1967
“In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.” Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle 1967
In 1967 the French film-maker, writer and head theorist of the Situationist International (Moving Images, The Hacienda Must Be Built), Guy Debord published an influential book of Marxist critical theory, The Society of the Spectacle, consisting of 221 thesis. Within its elegantly written and rigorously argued pages Debord advanced the theory of the Spectacle. The Spectacle has degraded authentic life and replaced it with mere representation, a decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing. The Spectacle has supplanted relationships between people with relationships between commodities and we passively identify with the Spectacle. “The spectacle is not a collection of images,” Debord notes, “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” The Spectacle obliterates the past and annihilates the future so that we live in an never-ending present. In this affect-less neuter-time there has been a systematic degradation of knowledge and we are incapable of critical thought, unaware that we are living in a moment in history.
In 1992 Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History, announced that Western neo-liberalism was the final point in human evolution; it wasn’t going to get better than this and that we were living in a post-historical period: the Spectacle had won.
But of course the statement by the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem quoted above holds true, and after a period when the Spectacle lacked a certain zest and an inability to hold our complete and undivided attention, the world has really turned upside down again. The true is a moment of the false. And we watch and wait with bated breath, in a rapt trance, with a horrified fascination as to what comes next. Maybe this time it will be the Ultimate Spectacle?
The Situationist International was the bastard child of Dada and Surrealism. Determined to resolve the contradiction that was at the heart of those movements, namely that though they were resolutely anti-art they ended up (through the process of recuperation) being a chapter in art history, they jettisoned art altogether to concentrate on ‘The Revolution of Everyday Life‘. Oh, and Liberation Marxist theory, a lot of Liberation Marxist theory.
But as its members all started as artists in various avant-garde micro movements (the movement was formed by the coalition of the Lettrist International, an offshoot of the Lettrist movement, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, an offshoot of COBRA and the London Psychogeographical Association, I kid you not), talents had to be put to use. Guy Debord, top theoretician and de facto leader of the Situationists developed the practise of detournement (examples of detourned art above and below) which consisted of ‘turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself’. Personally I find these comic strips with their earnest Marxist dialectic speech and thought bubbles very funny, though I am not sure that is their main intention.
The Situationist International and Enrages (whom they influenced) played an important part in the May 1968 uprising in Paris. The walls were daubed with Situationist and Surrealist slogans, Luis Bunuel in his autobiography My Last Sigh comments on his shock of seeing painted everywhere ‘All power to the imagination’ and ‘It is forbidden to forbid’.
In A Cavalier History of Surrealism, one of the leading member of the Situationist International (see Moving Images), the Belgian Raoul Vaneigem states that for all the revolutionary intentions expressed by the Surrealists in their manifestos and publications, they were still haunted by the old dream of Château living. The above statement written by Ivan Chichegiev in one of the earliest SI texts Formulary For A New Urbanism also explicitly references the SI’s forebearers, ‘We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of the women walking by, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench and the surrealists a crystal cup. That’s lost.’
The SI suggested that it was futile to be looking nostalgically back at a lost Golden Age that never existed, instead we must build the Hacienda for ourselves. Tony Wilson, a Manchester TV presenter, music critic and record label boss (the independent Factory Records, home of Joy Division and New Order), did exactly that when he opened the legendary nightclub The Hacienda in the mid 1980’s which was the centre of Manchester night-life for over a decade. Wilson was long familiar with the Situationists International as he had previously promoted punk bands on his TV show and had even ran his business ventures (unsuccessfully, from a purely financial standpoint) along lines suggested by the Situationists.
Ironically, yet somehow grimly predictable, the defunct Hacienda was recently converted into a luxury apartment block. Regardless of this recuperation, we must demand the impossible and make the dream of the Hacienda a reality.